This is the true story of one of my clients. I’ve changed irrelevant details to protect his anonymity.
Nick and Marie wanted to marry but agreed to wait until he returned from Afghanistan---just in case. Fortunately, he returned, uninjured, no PTSD, just proud, especially in his uniform that he got freshly pressed for their reunion.
Soon after they married, she got pregnant, gained 60 pounds during the pregnancy, and after their son was born, lost only 20. That combined with their having been together for a while resulted in his not feeling sexually attracted to her.
When Trump got elected, their political differences, which seemed minor before, got inflamed. Marie felt that Hillary was too dishonest to vote for but Marie hated Trump so she didn’t vote. Nick voted for Trump. They fought bitterly about it—She was shocked that he would vote for Trump and Nick felt that she was narrow-minded, brainwashed by college and the media. Their fight about politics expanded in unexpected ways. For example, Nick thought they should join a church to give their son exposure to religion. Marie, who had been neutral on that before, had gone to a Women’s March and came to believe that Catholic churches were too racist, sexist, and homophobic and she refused to expose her son to church.
They’ve had ten sessions of couples counseling but privately believe it’s hopeless. He has consulted a divorce attorney who warned him that if he divorced, because she’s a stay-at-home mom and hasn’t worked in two years, he’d probably have to give up a big chunk of his $90,000 salary in alimony and child support. Living in San Diego, he was having a hard enough time making ends meet as it is, so he has tentatively decided to stay and keep trying with the marriage counselor.
But Nick is finding himself wanting to spend little time with Marie, so he spends much time with his son and on his new hobby—stock trading. Marie hates that, understandably--They have only $20,000 in savings. He counters that he has earned all that money. She yelled, “You only earn it because I stay at home with the baby. You can’t gamble away our security!” And indeed, in the first month of trading, he, like the vast majority of traders, has lost money, $5,000 to be precise.
But he can’t make himself stop, in part to punish Marie for being tough on him and for her refusing to get a job to contribute to the family income.
He’s also started an extra-marital affair.
Disputes about sex, religion, money, and politics, especially in the aftermath of the Trump win, can take a toll on a relationship.
What advice would you give to Nick? To Marie? Would you simply say, “You need to openly but tactfully communicate?” Or would you offer a suggestion? For example, might you ask them to shop for a church that might be comfortable for both of them? Ask them to try new tactics to resurrect their sex life? Ask her if and how she’d like to lose weight? Ask him to list the risks and rewards of having an affair versus staying monogamous versus divorcing her? Would you try to get him to stop trading stocks? If so, how might you word it?
Is there anything in your answers to those questions that might be relevant to your relationship or to one you might have in the future? For example, how early in the relationship should you have an open discussion about money, religion, politics, and sex after the infatuation phase?